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Species In Our Midst
Rhododendron fastigiatum

by John and Sally Perkins

Rhododendron fastigiatum
Picture by S & J Perkins
Rhododendron fastigiatum in Concord, MA

Rhododendron fastigiatum

This hardy lepidote species is in Subsection Lapponica. Its species name means "erect" but all the good forms are not. Its Chinese name translates to "densely branched rhododendron", which seems to be a better description. Introduced to the west by Forrest in 1906 from western Yunnan and reintroduced several times since, it can be found growing in its native habitat of thickets on rocky hills in west and northwest Yunnan and southwest Sichuan at 10,500-16,000 feet. Peter Cox remarked on entire hillsides, in its native Yunnan, covered with R. fastigiatum in bloom associated with creamy white R. cephalanthum and pale yellow R. trichocladum. It also often grows near R. yungningense (formerly R. glomerulatum).

Greer rates it among the finest of all the scaly leafed rhododendrons for its hardiness and usefulness, especially in the small alpine forms. The species can be variable in growth habit from 6 inches to 4 feet. The small elliptic or oblong leaves about 8 mm x 4 mm are in terminal clusters on the branchlets. The leaf's upper surface is glaucous gray or pale glaucous green especially on the young growth; many selected forms have excellent glaucous foliage. The dense scales on the under surface of the leaf almost touch and are, according to Davidian, pale to dark brown in color. Flowers are in terminal inflorescences of 2-5 flowers. The long stamens and stigma extend beyond the corolla which is usually purplish blue but can be lavender-rose, deep purple-blue, deep lavender, deep blue or even rarely pinkish. Closely related to R. impeditum, Cox, in The Smaller Rhododendrons, admitted "that 2 of his introductions from Cangshan are impeditum not fastigiatum as first thought" and that some "forms of impeditum are actually fastigiatum".

Two Gable crosses of R. fastigiatum with R. minus Carolinianum Group, 'Purple Gem' (-20°F(-29°C) ) and 'Ramapo' (-25°F(-32°C)) are probably the most commercially important hybrids. 'Purple Imp' has similar heritage. 'Blue Diamond' (`Intrifast' x augustinii) has been used extensively in hybridizing for blue lepidote color. Unfortunately 'Blue Diamond' is not rated as very hardy, mostly because of R. augustinii parentage and therefore its many hybrids have similar hardiness problems.

Other hybrids with at least 1/4 R. fastigiatum are: 'Ramolet' (open pollinated 'Ramapo'), 'Blue Diamond' ('Intrifast' x augustinii) -5°F (-20°C), 'Oudijk's Favorite' ('Intrifast' x augustinii) -10°F (-23°C), 'Blue Mountain' (fastigiatum FCC x 'Blue Tit'), 'Augfast' (augustinii x fastigiatum) 0°F(-17°C), 'Intrifast' (intricatum x fastigiatum) -15°F(-26°C), 'Fasthip' (fastigiatum x hippophaeoides), 'Delp's Carefree' (minus var. minus, Delp's tetraploid form x fastigiatum) Zone5(4), 'Tear Drop' (R. minus var. minus, Delp's tetraploid form x fastigiatum) Zone5(4).

Sally and John Perkins, Salem, NH

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